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Downtown is happening

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

The Tucson City Council has wisely changed the priority of some downtown projects – a change that should mean more money in the long term for Rio Nuevo.

The move was driven partially by the University of Arizona’s decision to delay construction of its Science Center/State Museum complex because of budget cuts.

Under the change, bonds that were sold for the museums instead will be used to build a streetcar line extending from University Medical Center through downtown and west of Interstate 10. The line is a badly needed link to encourage people to live downtown with an easy commute to the UA area.

Bond proceeds also will be used for development in conjunction with a new hotel at the Tucson Convention Center. That makes a lot of sense.

The amount of state tax money flowing to Rio Nuevo is based on sales taxes collected within the district. If the city can attract more retail with the completed streetcar line and build a hotel that attracts more conventions, it will mean more sales tax revenue to be used for later projects – including the UA museums.

Rio Nuevo is at a crossroads – as it has been several times in the past – as it struggles because of a sagging economy and fights to retain state funding.

It is easy to make a quick pass through downtown, become a Rio Nuevo sidewalk supervisor and come away with a list of things that are not happening.

The long-planned convention hotel has not been built. The Post, a high-end residential development on East Congress Street that has been in the works for years, has not been built. Ditto for the housing development once known as Presidio Terrace near the Tucson Museum of Art.

Land has been cleared for a city-county courthouse, but nothing is going up. Museums planned for the west side of Interstate 10 are on hold.

All true.

But that is an unfair and incomplete assessment of downtown Tucson. There are things happening; there is investment being made by both the public and private sectors.

Downtown redevelopment is under way, though not as quickly or as comprehensively as planned. Some of that can be blamed on the city, which has moved in fits and starts and has, at times, lacked a consistent message.

But most of the delay can be blamed on the global recession, which has crippled construction and investment everywhere. Until that turns around, downtown Tucson will struggle.

Rio Nuevo has lurched forward in fits and starts. But downtown Tucson has a lot going for it. It is the economic center of Tucson, is ringed by historic neighborhoods, already is home to about 13,000 people, has a solid base of public and private investment and has land and buildings ready for development or reuse.

What we now call downtown is where Tucson was born. And it again will be the city’s heart.

Downtown is moving forward, although not as quickly as planned. But much of the delay can be blamed on the recession.

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